Coming off the most successful season of his four-year professional career, defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani today signed a one-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres. With training camp just over a month away, Gragnani knew that he would eventually put pen to paper with the Sabres.
“I wasn’t stressed about the process at all,” Gragnani explained during a phone conversation from his hometown of Montreal. “They had other priorities with free agency, and there were some other guys they needed to get signed before me. I knew everything would work out.”
The 24-year-old Gragnani was named the American Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Defenseman in 2010-11, leading all AHL blueliners with career highs in both points (60) and assists (48) while playing in just 63 games for the Portland Pirates. Gragnani was recalled twice to Buffalo during the season, but it was his second tour of duty that garnered the most attention.
Prompted by injuries to Jordan Leopold
and Shaone Morrisonn, Gragnani contributed three points (1+2) over the final six games of the season, while averaging more than 16 minutes of TOI per game. Gragnani picked up his first career NHL point (assist) against the Rangers on March 30, and then recorded his first career NHL goal -- an OT game winner -- in Carolina on April 3.
Gragnani had struggled through previous recalls, but that wasn’t the case this time. He says that once he was told that he was staying Buffalo for the remainder of the season, it allowed him to calm down and play his game.
“Once I knew I was up for the year, it was a relief. Jeep (assistant coach James Patrick) told me on my second or third day that I was here to stay, and that really relaxed me. When you get recalled you never know if you’re up or down, and you never feel at home. Being able to settle down and adapt was the key for me this time.”
Gragnani followed up his regular season performance with a team-leading seven points (1+6) in Buffalo’s seven-game loss to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Gragnani’s six assists were a Sabres rookie record for assists by a defenseman in one playoff series, and he also tied Pierre Turgeon (1988) for rookie points in one series. Despite playing in just seven playoff games, Gragnani’s seven points led all rookie defensemen in the postseason, and he finished fourth in rookie playoff scoring.
With the additions of Christian Ehrhoff
and Robyn Regehr
, Gragnani knows that he’s in tough to secure a spot on the Sabres blueline this season. But Gragnani said he needs to prove that what he accomplished during the playoffs wasn’t an aberration.
“It’s going to be completely up to me,” he explains. “I need to take on the same role I did during the playoffs and stay comfortable doing it. I now have no doubt that I’m capable of doing that on a regular basis at this level.”
Gragnani finished up his season representing Canada at the IIHF World Championships in Slovakia, picking up two points (1+1) in six games.
The Montreal, Que. native now has three points in 15 career NHL games with the Sabres since 2007-08. During his four AHL seasons with Portland/Rochester, Gragnani collected 206 points (47+159) in 283 games, and never scored fewer than 43 points during a single season.
Gragnani was originally drafted by the Sabres in the third round (87th overall) of the 2005 Entry Draft. He played four seasons of junior hockey with the QMJHL’s PEI Rocket.